Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Why make art?

 Memory                                                              Oil on canvas

It seems to be automatic in me every now and then, to scrape everything off the table in my mind  and look at what I'm doing and ask myself why I'm doing it. Something about January is inspiring me to do that now. Maybe it's because our calendar just started a new cycle, and I'm hoping the new year will bring me new challenges and skills. Or maybe it's because it's 28º outside for the fourth? or fifth? morning in a row, the ground is frozen so it crunches when you walk, the rhododendron leaves are curled up like cinnamon sticks, and there's still snow on the roofs from a week ago. There's no such word as "rooves", right?

Through the year as I'm making each glass piece or painting, one wish comes up every time—that someone else will like this piece as much as or more than I do, and decide they just have to take it home and put it in their house or garden. That actually only happens on rare occasions, and yet I never seem to learn, I always think it will happen. As a painting is coming together and suddenly takes on its first glimmer of presence, or when I brush the kiln dust off a piece of glass and see the light shining through the colors for the first time, my emotions well up, my ego leaps into the saddle and goes charging off with my heart in tow, wanting that feedback from the universe—Yes! you are an ARTIST! And this is a beautiful work of ART and someone will desire it! And I feel like that is the reason that I made this piece, for that as yet unknown person out there who feels and sees just the way I do.

Well, sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn't. And what I seem to end up with, inside me where I need to have room to think, is a big clutter of post-it notes that say, "Someone will want this," clogging up my neural pathways.

That's what the scraping is for, to clear all those out and throw them away, to acknowledge that it doesn't really matter if anyone else ever wants any of these, I'm still going to keep making more. And while I'm at it, I want to scrape off everything anyone said this year about my work—good, bad, or what-are-they-saying?—unless it actually stimulates or inspires me to go make something. I want to throw away everything I've read or heard about what's "great" or "trendy" or "important" in the art world. This year, for some reason, I feel a very clear imperative—that the only thing that's important to me about my art is that no matter what, I must keep making it. Everything else, every other thought or idea about what I'm working on or why I'm doing it, no matter from where or from whom it comes, is irrelevant.

But why is that? Why am I making art, instead of doing something else? Is it because I recognize there are mental benefits I get from art? I know the creative stimulation keeps my mind active, always looking for patterns, for colors, studying other works I like, examining, comparing, ending every day with questions and getting up in the morning to find answers. It's obviously working out my brain cells—how could that not be good? I see spiritual benefits as well in the act of creating, shutting off the logical mind in active meditation, letting the indescribable forces flow through me, driving my hands and my ideas to make something new, something which I could never have thought up or derived without that effort to let go of control and constraint long enough for the new work to come forth. The third level of purpose seems to be creating something I'd like to keep. I adore beauty and having beautiful things around me, and even though I make an awful lot of things that don't merit that description, every now and then I hit the jackpot with something that really brings a new dimension to my space. Fourth, it's clear to me now that I have a drive to achieve. I want to have achievements to look back on, evidence of my efforts and signs of my personal progress. Even if no one else ever sees them, I want them. Even if they never get to be as good in anyone's eyes, including mine, as other works I find, they bring me a level of enjoyment that I didn't have before. There's one more reason that I learned this year about myself—I'm always wanting to move to something new. I want to see new work that I've never seen before, just like I want to hear new words and music, to laugh at new silliness, and see and understand new levels of knowledge about the familiar things around me. So that's the fifth purpose—I want to keep expanding into the previously unknown.

All of those reasons make sense to me; they feel like whole, self-sufficient truths. They could be the origins of  this undeniable urge that I have to make art. Probably only psychologists or behavioral scientists will ever really care whether the irrational drive or the rational rewards are the true determiners of why artists must make art. Maybe someday it will be connected to one or more genes, but then you have to ask why any being would have those genes, and how far back in the evolutionary path do they go? In any case, the practical point for me is that I'm forced to recognize that the reason I'm making art is not to make it for other people. I'm not going to start a new painting because someday someone's going to look at it and say "Wow! I want this!" So I can throw that thought and all the thoughts like it away and the only thing left on my table will be what's real for me—real, proven, and reliable—I'm going to make art because that's what I want to do, that's what I'm driven to do. I don't have to think about it, I don't have to have a reason, I don't have to explain it or justify it in any way. I just have to make art.

Have a Happy New Year doing what you simply must do!

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